By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Defending champion Air Force scored two goals in injury time to salvage a. dramatic 3-3 draw against Loyola Meralco Saturday night and move up to fifth in. the United Football League at the University of Makati.
National team striker Ian Araneta capped the Airmen’s sprited fightback with a 95th minute strike just three minutes after substitute Joebel Bermejo put the defending champions within one goal.
“We needed this result and we wanted to prove that we’re not a team of has-beens,” said Araneta in Filipino.
The Airmen won just two of their first six matches heading into the game, while the Sparks were in flying form with four straight victories.
“This is a big confidence boost for us. Hopefully, this could be the start of something big for Air Force.”
The draw prevented Loyola from dislodging No. 1 Global, which produced a brilliant attacking display in the 5-1 demolition of Kaya.
Carli de Murga struck twice, after Val Kama and Izo El-Habbib found the back. of the net as Global notched its fifth straight win, putting the Dan Palami-coached side on top with 21 points.
De Murga also forced the own goal from Adrian Semblat in the 79th minute in a thorough domination of the side that came into the match heralded as the league’s best defensive team.
Loyola dropped to second with 19 points with a match in hand, while Kaya absorbed its second defeat in eight matches.
In a rematch of the UFL Cup finals won by Air Force, the Sparks took a comfortable 3-1 lead into added time after an 82nd minute goal from Phil Younghusband, who also opened the scoring 13 minutes into the match.
But the highly physical match that also saw seven yellow cards turned when James Younghusband was sent off for a needless nudge on Herbert Bayona on an off-the-ball play and Air Force was quick to capitalize.
Chieffy Caligdong found Bermejo at the far post and the right winger bundled it into the roof of the goal.
Bermejo was also involved in the equalizer as his through ball found Araneta, who held off Jeong Byeong-yeol before firing low past Ref Cuaresma for eighth goal in the last four matches.
Araneta first equalized in the 23rd minute as his 25-yard free kick from a tight angle found the top corner.
But Mark Hartmann also curled in a free kick five minutes later, before Air Force was rewarded with a penalty at the stroke of halftime after Cuaresma fouled Araneta inside the box. Cuaresma saved Randy Bela-ong’s penalty, preserving the lead for the Sparks at halftime.